Costa Rica

Last Updated 28 October 2020

Roman Catholicism is the state religion of Costa Rica and its institutions permeate the national infrastructure. The percentage of the population that identifies as atheist, agnostic or without religion has slowly but steadily grown in recent years, from 8% in 2011 to 17% in 2018.1https://www.refworld.org/docid/502105cc69.html; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/COSTA-RICA-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

 
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Article 75 of the Constitution2https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Costa_Rica_2011.pdf provides for freedom of religion, but establishes Roman Catholicism as the official state religion and affords the Church several benefits. The state has an obligation to contribute to the Church’s maintenance, but is not allowed to infringe on others’ right to freely exercise their religions that “do not impugn universal morality or proper behavior.” The government does not put restrictions on the establishment of churches.

The constitution provides for freedoms of assembly and association, and Costa Rica is home to a vibrant civil society with many active nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The Constitution states that no one, clergy or lay, may invoke religious doctrine as a means to a political goal. The constitution prohibits Catholic clergy from occupying any political position but does not prohibit non-Catholic clergy from doing so.

Religious bias

The Catholic Church has special legal recognition. Part of the government budget goes to the Catholic churches for construction, maintenance and repair. The Catholic Church is exempt from income and property taxes. The Catholic Church is also granted land by the government occasionally. Besides civil marriages, only the Catholic Church may perform state-recognised marriages. Couples married in other religious communities must also go through a civil ceremony to receive state recognition.3state.gov/documents/organization/208680.pdf

2017-2018 General Election

Costa Rica’s 2017-2018 general election saw a resurgence of openly conservative, religious, misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric. Fabricio Alvarado became the forerunner for the presidential race on a platform that promised to restrict women’s access to abortions, end sex education in schools and fight “gender ideology”, the theory advanced by conservative Christian groups that gay- and feminist-led movements are determined to destroy the traditional family and “natural order” of society. Though he ultimately lost the election to a pro-LGBTQ+ candidate, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, Costa Rican society was heavily polarised by the toxic debate.4https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/02/costa-rica-quesada-wins-presidency-in-vote-fought-on-gay-rights

Since the election, things have moved in a positive direction. A significant victory was won on 26 May 2020 when Costa Rica became the first Central American country to allow same-sex marriage following a decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.5https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/26/costa-rica-first-central-america-legalize-same-sex-marriage However, the influence of the Catholic Church means that abortions continue to remain illegal for women unless the life or health of the pregnant mother is at risk.

Education and children’s rights

State schools give Catholic religious instruction. Students may be exempted from it with parental permission, but they and their teachers and school principal must agree on an alternative course.

In July 2012 the Evangelical Alliance opposed a new state sex-education program called Education in Affectivity and Sexuality with the objective of reducing teenage pregnancies.6nacion.com/2012-07-17/ElPais/evangelicos-desatan-ofensiva–contra-educacion-sexual.aspx When the program was approved in 2013, the Catholic Church also opposed it, saying that the subject should be approached within the family context. The Church also argued that sex education and religious beliefs could not be separated. The constitutional court later ruled that students should get permission from their parents before attending the sex education course.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is respected, and the media is free of censorship and government control. Access to the internet is not restricted.

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